Cover Image: Small Joys

Small Joys

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Member Reviews

Small Joys is about a gay black man with a terrible father, depression, anxiety, and suicidal tendencies. Harley meets Muddy (a bird watching rugby player) and Fin (a runner and bit of a meathead jock who is dating his friend). As the book progresses they both show how much they care about Harley and his feelings. The relationship with Muddy is so raw, honest and heartfelt. The relationship with Fin becomes deeper and meaningful as they trust each other. 

This book is HEAVY but oh my goodness so good! At first I couldn't connect to the characters, as they were everything opposite of me. But then I enjoyed the incredible depth of the male bonding in this book. Harley is so special and some of his thoughts are just incredibly beautiful and eye opening. Muddy is the best friend a person can have and makes me want to be a better person. And the music references were so good and added to the feelings in the story!

"...watched him move through his tailored world, in which happiness was actually happiness and not simply an absence of sadness. It was such an active, potent form of it that I wondered if it was something that could be taught, a skill I could learn and maintain, like riding a bike."

4.25 stars, highly recommended!
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Thank you so much to the publisher and NetGalley for the eARC of this stunning debut. I absolutely adored this novel in every way, the story of Harley’s journey from isolated despair to happiness in the company of his wonderful friends. I wanted to be part of this friend group so badly: Harley, Muddy, Finn, Chelsea, and Noria, all in their early 20s in 2005 England, muddling through life and love together. The prose is just perfect, easy to read and still taking your breath away with its beauty. And the relationship between Harley and Muddy just made my heart explode. Seriously, you need to read this book, either now as an eARC if you can get your hands on it, or when it’s released in April. Ahhhh. <insert 5,000 heart emojis here> Can’t wait to read the author’s next novel.
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CW: mental illness, homophobia, suicide attempt, and emotional abuse

Small Joys was the story of Harley and his struggles with mental health. He recently dropped out of university where his feelings of depression and anxiety overwhelmed him to the point he was unable to attend classes. He felt like a failure, unlovable, and worthless. Harley moved back to his hometown and back into the flat he once shared with a close friend, Chelsea. Muddy, Chelsea's ex-boyfriend and now friend, was a flatmate also. Muddy noticed Harley spent a lot of time in his room, made disparaging remarks about himself, and didn't have many friends. He made it his mission to involve Harley in any activities he or his friends were doing in hopes of showing Harley he was wanted as a friend. Chelsea and her friends, Noria and Finlay, also made plans with Harley to show him he was valued as person. As time went by, Harley began to heal and see his worth.

I felt the author did a very good job of writing the characters in the story. I could feel the sadness Harley felt and Muddy's determination not to let Harley feel alone and unwanted. There were times in this book when I felt such anger at his father and such joy when Harley began to find his way. I was happy when he took the steps to seek professional help. The story was slow at first, but picked up for me in the second half. The ending was lovely and hopeful. I would love to see a novel with Muddy as the main character. I enjoyed this debut novel by Elvin James Mensah and look forward to reading more of his work.

I received an e-ARC for Small Joys and want to thank Elvin James Mensah, Ballantine Books, and NetGalley for the opportunity to voluntarily read and give an honest review of this book. I plan to post my review to my Goodreads, Instagram, StoryGraph, and accounts the week of March 26, 2023.

Small Joys is set to be released April 11, 2023.
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Small Joys by Elvin James Mensah

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed Small Joys. It is Elvin James Mensah's debut novel. This is a story about the loving friendship between Harley and Muddy. The story is raw, touching, and heartfelt. Despite each character's unique traits, they come together in meaningful scenes. This beautiful story of imperfect friendship left a lasting impression on me as a reader. It is a wonderful debut and I look forward to reading more. 

Small Joy is available on April 11th. (4.25/5)

Thank you NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine, for sharing this incredible friendship. I appreciate your kindness.
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this book is the author's debut and it shows. don't get me wrong, i enjoy my reading experience with this prose but at the end of the day, it was just another book in my read's pile. it was an okay book 
i was expecting more.
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Thanks to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group- Ballantine for the advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review. This is the author’s first book and I enjoyed the story of Harley, a young gay black man. This is about him coming to terms with being gay despite his religious dad’s protests. He meets a group of friends who are more like family and starts to find himself. I’ll read more by this author in the future!
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I found this book touching, compelling, and eye opening in so many ways. This isn’t a storyline I would normally pick but I am so glad I did. 5 very enthusiastic stars.
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3.75 star
What a great debut. This is a very hopeful story about a Black gay man who faces mental health and relationship (family & romantic) hardships. 
Harley has a a homophobic single father who kicked him out when he was younger and believes he can be changed. 
Harley has a sexual arrangement with an older white man who is both homophobic and racist. He accepts this because he wants to be looked at and touched with desire. 
Muddy and Finley are loud, rough housing best friends. Muddy has a big passion for bird watching and it serves as something calming for the story. It also shows Muddy’s gentleness and carefulness around things that frighten easily. 
Harley and Muddy’s relationship is so endearing. Their friendship and maybe something more is refreshing. Things aren’t rushed and everything moves realistically. 
The discussions around mental health and being a Black gay man is so significant. 
This is a not a book about a person who constantly suffers and ends hopelessly. He is actively trying to get better and growing his relationships with his friends. He opens up to them and they are there for every step of the way. He seeks professional help (medication and therapy). 
Quotes I really appreciate:
“Anxiety and queerness and failure only served to make further unrecognizable as a black man to him”
“…in handing over these pieces of myself, I could sustain his interest in me, that maybe one day this interest would blossom into him seeing me as more than just a submissive body with brown skin”
“ ‘I feel like I been looking after you since I met you.’ There was relief in his voice. ‘You know,” he continued. ‘I watched you, “
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4.5 stars rounded down.

This is a small, cozy, lovely coming of age book about a Black queer 21 year old in 2005 (why in 2005? that remains a mystery to me but i didn't hate it. solid year honestly), and his group of friends and friendfamily. It was deeply queer and really humanized men and their friendships in a way that worked very well for me. It's about mental health and loss and how we save ourselves and each other. I can't wait till everyone can read this.

NetGalley ARC, unbiased review.
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What a beautiful book. It is a quiet book... not packed with action but that is appropriate. It takes you into the journey of Harley, a black gay man, as he deals with his anxiety and depression and begins to find self acceptance. This is not a gay romance story... it is an intimate journey through one man's mental health issues and the impact they have on his life. Topics touched on are family rejection, suicidal ideation, toxic relationships, identity and friendship. Through it all, we see Harley experience the Small Joys of life and how they impact his recovery. For a debut novel, it has great depth, vulnerability and heart. I look forward to more from this author.
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Wow, I was not expecting to love this book as much as I did! There are not many things better (and more important) in this world than a friendship filled with comfort and love. The author did such a tremendous job portraying how a beautiful opening up and connecting to someone can literally transform a life. This book deals with many heavy topics, so read the content warnings before diving in. I felt so much hurt, so much love, and eventually so much hope for our main character, Harley. The friendship that develops between him and Muddy is nothing short of magic, and the writing style was so beautiful and portrayed every emotion in such a raw, heartfelt way. I felt all the feelings, cried (more like sobbed) all the tears, and finished the book feeling optimistic and looking at life and people through a new lens. This was a phenomenal debut and I'm excited to read the author's future works.
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"I'd always felt like a weed growing among flowers, competing for light and water: too neglected to be picked, but somehow too weak to be a threat to anything. But, in the end, these flowers had given me something, they'd arranged themselves around me, and made me feel as if I were one of their own" (Mensah, 2023). 

Mensah's Small Joys follows Harley as he moves back to rural England and comes face-to-face with the challenges he has desperately tried to leave behind. Harley finds that his current life is not worth living and makes a decision to end his life. However, he is ultimately saved - in more ways than one - by his fellow flatmate, Muddy. Muddy ends up showing Harley that life is worth living and worth second chances at happiness. Despite their differences, the two become fast friends. Small Joys is a heartwarming story about growth, acceptance, and finding your "people." 

I'll be honest, I almost gave up on this about 30% of the way through. It was moving so slowly and did not seem to be going anywhere. I sympathized with Harley and felt his pain, but at times, it just felt whiny. However, once I hit the halfway point, I was fully invested in Harley and Muddy's journey. Their friendship is one that everyone needs to have in their life. There are quite a few sensitive topics in the novel (self-harm, mental illness, homophobia, abuse), so if those are an issue, I would pass on this one. Also, if you are not English and are not up-to-date on your slang, be prepared to be a little confused at times. It is very slang heavy - but only requires you to re-read a sentence once or twice to get a general idea. 

Overall, this gets a 3/5 due to the pacing and heavy English slang. If you are looking for a good LGBTQIA+ book, give this one a try!
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Honestly it was difficult for me to get into the book due to its slow start. I may not be the right audience for this book, however I do see it being successful and I know there will be readers who will love this book more than me. I do look forward to the author’s future works. 

Thank you to Netgalley and publisher for e-arc.
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This was an absolutely beautiful and touching story of friendship, the search for belonging, self-love and chosen family. I highly recommend this read to everyone. I will be buying this when it’s released widely! Thank you to NetGalley and Elvin James Mensah for this opportunity. Truly touched by this story.
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#SmallJoys by #ElvinJamesMensah lives up to its description. It is a character- and emotion-driven story following Harley, who has dropped out of college and returned home to rural England. Harley moves back into a house with his friend, Chelsea and her new roommate Muddy with whom Harley has complicated feelings, while he starts working again. The layers here are that Chelsea, Muddy, and two other friends Noria and Finlay, have dated each other. There are multiple instances of harm in the book as well as homophobic violence toward two of the characters and difficult relationships between Harley and his father. So there are definitely trigger warnings throughout the entire book. That being said, I enjoyed the interplay between the characters--especially between Muddy and Harley. I did have trouble with Finlay although i realize he was supposed to be a "difficult" friend.  Overall I have mixed feelings on the book, but I appreciate what the author was going for. This would be a good adult purchase for public libraries. Thank you to the publishers and NetGalley for the ARC. 3.5 stars rounded up.
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I could not finish this book even though I tried. It read like a series of ramblings that went nowhere. There was no real depth to the characters, only light glimpses of how they got to where they were in life. Some characters felt like page fillers.
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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Harley, having just dropped out of uni is back living with Chelsea, and a new roommate, Muddy. Harley has social anxiety and is depressed, but Muddy latches onto Harley and turns his world around. This book is about friendship, chosen family, and the daily struggles with anxiety and depression. It takes a village, even in adulthood. This book was written so well and moved at a decent pace. I didn't want it to end.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the ARC.
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Harley is a young, gay, black man who is struggling with life. He drops out of university and moves in with a cast of diverse roommates—one of whom he has a particular connection with named Muddy. 

The book is hard to read in terms of what Harley has faced, in particular with his father, but touching in all of the bonds he makes through his struggles with depression and his need for human connection and belonging. 

The book is very slow—a lot of dialogue, and very British, but wonderful for its exploded moments and interactions where you really get to know the diverse characters. 

Thank you to Ballantine and NetGalley for the ARC.
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Small Joys is a moving debut novel by Elvin James Mensah highlighting the importance of found family. In it, we meet Harley, a gay Black man who has just dropped out of college and moves back to his hometown in England. He returns to the shared apartment he used to live in with Chelsea, his friend who took him in after a fallout with his father, and a new roommate Muddy who could not be any different from Harley. He is a bird watcher, close with his grandfather, but also an athlete. His close group of friends also includes Finlay, a close friend of Muddy's who is now dating Chelsea, and Noria who is dating Muddy at the beginning of the novel. 

Harley and Muddy develop an intense bond with one another, brought closer by Muddy's strong need to be there for Harley during his mental health struggles. All four friends support one another; though they are all different, their bond is strong and it is easy to root for all of them through their nuanced portrayals (they don't fit into stereotypes). Muddy and Harley become quite physically close as well and it is interesting to see the evolution of their relationship and I really appreciated (no spoilers) revelations on Muddy, which are not often highlighted in literature. This book does not shy away from issues around depression, trauma, and family struggles so readers should be aware.

This is a quiet gem of a debut novel that I hope others discover and appreciate as much as I did.

Thank you to Random House (Ballantine Books) via NetGalley for the advance reader copy in exchange for honest review.
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4.5 rounded to 5 stars

Small Joys is a quiet, contemplative, and ultimately joyful story of Harley’s journey with mental health issues. Harley is a young 20-year-old gay black man who has just dropped out of university, plagued with anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. He feels utterly alone, unloved, and worthless. Through taking a room in a rental house, Harley develops friendships with five very diverse individuals, including Muddy who takes a keen interest in looking out for Harley. 

This book does not center around a gay romance as one might think because the protagonist is gay. It is a book about mental health and the difficulties involved in combating anxiety and depression. It addresses the powerful roles of friendship, therapy, and small joys in overcoming unhappiness, constant apprehension, and general misery. There is not a lot of action here; that was okay with me. I enjoyed the dialogue and introspection filling this novel. I felt I really got to know the characters, especially Harley and Muddy. There were many touching moments. 

I strongly considered rounding my 4.5 rating down instead of up because I sorely missed having an epilogue. I really wanted to see how Harley was doing a couple of years down the road. Having said that, I can probably guess what happens, but I wanted to see it play out. Ultimately, I rounded up instead as this book deserves more than 4 stars.

Overall, I was very impressed with this debut novel, and I will be on the alert for a second novel by Mr. Mensah. If this review piques your interest, I would highly recommend it for you. 

I want to thank Corina Diez from Ballantine books, Net Galley, and Elvin James Mensah for the opportunity to read an advanced copy. Opinions are mine alone and are not biased in any way.
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